Vilsack, groups respond to General Mills decision to label genetically modified foods |

Vilsack, groups respond to General Mills decision to label genetically modified foods

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the groups interested in the issue of labeling genetically modified foods — the Environmental Working, Group, Just Label It and the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food — all said Friday that General Mills' decision to label foods according to the new Vermont law shows the need for a federal solution.

The Vermont law mandating GMO notification on package labels will go into effect July 1.

Vilsack told The Hagstrom Report in a telephone interview, "This is an indication of why we need a national approach."

The nation is going to have individual companies and states making decisions and there "won't be a standard," Vilsack said. "It's going to create confusion."

“If large companies like General Mills and Campbell’s are accepting that this is what consumers want, then so should our political representatives. It is now time to put this debate behind us and realize that the citizens have spoken.” Dr. Tom Welsh

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General Mills' decision to label "is something they feel compelled to do," Vilsack said. "They, along with other companies, will try to figure out how this is going to go. That is why we need a national approach. I hope folks have not given up on the Hill."

The General Mills decision was revealed today when Jeff Harmening, executive vice president and chief operating officer of U.S. retail at the company's Minneapolis headquarters, wrote a blog about the decision on the General Mills website.

"We can't label our products for only one state without significantly driving up costs for our consumers and we simply will not do that. The result: consumers all over the U.S. will soon begin seeing words legislated by the state of Vermont on the labels of many of their favorite General Mills products."

Harmening announced the decision two days after a Senate bill to ban state labeling laws failed to get the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture. The bill would have set up a voluntary labeling system that would become mandatory in three years if companies did not label 70 percent of products.

Democrats, organic proponents and consumer groups said the bill was not strong enough, while the Heritage Foundation said any bill that requires mandatory labeling is unwise. The vote was 48 yes to 49 no, with most Republicans voting for it but only three Democrats voting for it.

"As the discussions continue in Washington, one thing is very clear: Vermont law requires us to start labeling certain grocery store packages that contain GMO ingredients or face significant fines," Harmening wrote.

Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Just Label It and Stonyfield Farm, an organic operations, said "General Mills has shown real leadership by committing to provide consumers basic information about their food."

"More than 60,000 consumers thanked Campbell's when they announced their commitment to greater transparency, and I am sure consumers will reward General Mills for trusting consumers to make their own choices," Hirshberg said. "I applaud their leadership for recognizing that consumers simply want to know what's in their food and how it's grown."

Hirshberg added, "Senators on both sides of this issue now need to realize that the marketplace is moving far faster than our legislators, and that the time has come to enact uniform mandatory legislation that makes it easy for consumers to see at a glance whether their foods contain GMOs."

"If large companies like General Mills and Campbell's are accepting that this is what consumers want, then so should our political representatives. It is now time to put this debate behind us and realize that the citizens have spoken."

Scott Faber, the senior vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group said, "EWG applauds General Mills for disclosing the presence of GMOs on their products."

"Nine out of 10 Americans want the right to know whether their food contains GMOs – just like consumers in 64 other nations," Faber said. "Like General Mills, we hope Congress will craft a national, mandatory GMO labeling solution and welcome the opportunity to work with industry to find a solution that works for consumers and works for the food industry."

Claire Parker, a spokeswoman for the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food, the industry group that opposes state labeling and favors voluntary federal labeling, said, "General Mills was forced to make this decision because of the Senate's failure to act on Wednesday."

"Our nation's food supply chain is being thrown into chaos, the full consequences of which, such as higher food prices, will continue to reveal themselves so long as we lack a consistent national food labeling standard. The reality is that a state of only 600,000 residents is now dictating food labeling policy in a nation of 300 million.

"What remains to be seen, however, is what happens if other states reject these labels as inaccurate or misleading or implement laws requiring slightly different labeling language. This is where the situation becomes untenable and consumers pay the price. It is nothing short of irresponsible for the Senate to continue to allow this issue to fester, leaving food companies and farmers an uncertain fate."

–The Hagstrom Report